A year of cats and knitting, frosty mornings and Summer strolls, handbaked bread and foraged fruits part two…….

July was really glorious this year, early sunshine filled my work room and many was morning where I found myself  waking around 5 and with a pot of tea would settle down on the back door step or at a table on teh patio and have a few quiet moments knitting…..

We’ve got a big laurel tree at the bottom of the garden and I can always hear when the wood pidgeons are in there, shufling about and sounding all the world like someone fussing with their umbrella….even though the house and neighbourhood is still sound asleep the garden seems a hive of activity in those early hours…… the rosemary gets the first of the sunshine and by 8 the garden is filled with a nose tingle of fragrant herbs, the air almost shimmers with it’s oily aroma…..I like to pick the delicate blue blossoms to scatter over goats cheese and salad…….

July was also the month of the Karise shawl…..I’d asked on ravely if anyone could suggest a nice easy shawl pattern that I could knit for my boyfriend’s mum and lots of people suggested looking at Karie Westerman’s patterns….I ended up choosing Karise and even though the lace work was charted which made me have a bit of a panic at first, within stitches I found the chart much easier to keep track of what I was doing…… I’ve ended up knitting 4 of these shawls now, 2 were knitted in the Tamar yarn from Blacker Yarns (I’d won one of the skeins a month or so earlier) and this yarn loved lace work so much……I still can’t really believe I made these…almost as soon as I cast off the gift shawl I started knitting a Karise for me, all pollen hued and sheep kissy….and the others were knitted using the yarn I’d un-ravelled in June….I found I did need to use stitch markers as I was a bit nervous in case I made a mistake and wouldn’t be able to correct it….I’d already made stitch markers in the Winter from some vintage glass beads but this time I made some more using beads which I’d been given by my friend who’d died in the Spring……I use the markers a lot and can’t see or touch them without thinking of happier times with her…..

And I also picked up some rather excellent vintage sewing and knitting books along with vintage haberdashery notions….zips, binding s and threads…., none of them cost very much and the quality is superb….

 

 

I finishd my third Karise shawl in August, this was using the yarn I’d ripped out, washed and re-skeined earlier in the Summer…..this was a gift for my sister Rachie and I think it was a nice surprise for her to receive in the post as the last time I’d sent her a hand knit it had been a dish cloth……and I also knitted my first Ishbel shawl…this was a really big deal for me as I’d bought a skein to knit this with 5 years before, back then it was just a “one day when I can knit” dream so actually being able to wear the finished shawl was more than a little special……

On nice days we try head out for walks over the marshes and while there had been some wet days for the most part the marshes and surrounding pastures are dry enough to walk from what seem like meadows of wild flowers….the Rosebay Willowherb and Purple Loosestrife grow shoulder height and higher,there are  smudges of vetch and swaithes of meadowsweet wherever you look…..this time of  year the colours are now fading though. Look close at any blossom and you’re bound to see bees tumbling around and getting covered in dusty pollen……the blackberries seem a bit small again this year but we’re able to pick enough for some jam and junkets…..

Another rather special knit was knitting a pair of socks for my friend Anne and also making her a needle wrap from an old coat that had belonged to her mum… I embroidered on the fabric and used some vintage thonging to keep the wrap closed……and decided to make some wraps for my Folksy shop…..

We also got to experience the naughtiness that is the cat next door…we soon find out that she is a knitting needle thief and will happily rip out and play with any knitting that gets put down even for 5 minutes……

September was a real Indian Summer, the days were still hot and full of sunshine, the hedgerows fair teeming with fruits but the nights soon felt they were drawing on in and on more than one occasion a huge hairy spider is spied scuttling across the living room carpet (you should see me move, legs up off the floor and tucked underneath me on the sofa)…… the huge copper jam pan is un-packed once more and seems to live on the stove as I simmer hedgerow fruits into panty jams and jellies…..the joys of a pan of bubbling blackberries fills every sense with pleasure….

Towards the end of the month I realise it’s now been about a year that I’ve been knitting, at first it’s just been wobbly practise stitches, knitting up tiny swatches and then slowly gaining in confidence…..

I had a lovely email from Blacker Yarns asking if I’d be interested in having a play with a couple of new yarns they had coming out, the answer is “yes please” and I’m in for such a treat….firstly it’s Cornish Tin II which is all full of bounce and plumpness, so stuffed full of goodness like a Christmas pudding…..and then I’m sent a wee skein of St Kilda laceweight, hand-dyed by Joy of The Knitting Goddess…the swatch card is as bright and vibrant as the can can dancers in Baz Luhrmann’s Moulon Rouge…..

And finally himself gets a day out on the bus to the vets for annual vacinations but this is when he finally gets the all clear with his cancer….I’m so thankful that my vet was suspicious about the lump and advised getting it removed before any further tests and what not, without her I don’t think we’d have our boy today…. (currently sitting alongside me having a right good wash)…so huge huge thank yous to Chantelle at Chapelfield Vets….we think you’re awesome.

Right at the start of October my boyfriend felt rather unwell and when he went to the doctors was told it was shingles….as he doesn’t have the best of health this was a bit of a worry and so the month passed rather quietly….I went out for a few marshy meanders and did some foraging but a lot of days were spent at home where I was able to potter in the kitchen making more syrups and jellies and apple falvoured vodka when the cat wasn’t napping in the jam pan……

Even though this is the second year the blackberries here haven’t come to much, the other wild fruits have been amazing, the leaves seem really slow to turn and the lane is beautifully lit with sunlight glowing through vivid green leaves, illuminating acorns like tiny lamps….

I finished another needlewrap for Anne again using the fabric from her mum’s coat and made a project/workshop bag to go with it…..

The yellow socks were actually knit during August and Spetmeber but it’s been so mild I just tucked them away…the pattern is called Hermione’s everyday socks but I don’t know what happened but the tension is rather different between the two and so one is a bit bigger than the other….it looks like Hermione’s been at the butterbeer….

I also knit two more Ishbel shawls but as my boyfriend is poorly it’ll be a good few weeks yet before I can get them properly photographed…..one is knit using the Cornish TIn II I’d had a sample of…the yarn is a bit greedy soon gets all gobbled up and only the kindness of Montymouse on ravelry means I have enough for my shawl….the other is knit with yarn that I’d previously crocheted into a scarf but hadn’t worn for ages…..

November was for me all about the knitting, all the wonders of wool, local yarn and celebrating all the people who create beautiful yarns for me to knit with…..

Last year I’d not been knitting for all that long when I found out about Wovember, but reading all those woolly, sheep praising  posts was what made me really fall in love with what was on my needles…. Anyone who has been a reader of my blog knows I love using vintage haberdasheries, vintage fabrcs that friends and family have passed on to me, fabric that has a bt of a story to it, needles that came from a friend’s mum’s workbox…. over the years I’ve really struggled to find that same connection with my knitting but thinking about the different breeds the yarn comes from, who’s spun it, where the sheep live, how local to me they might be has fare captured my heart and swept me good and proper right off my feet…I love story, I love a good yarn (whether it’s a yarn on my needle or a right good chatty catch up) but hadn’t ever thought that that might be the way I would fall in love with what a pair of pointy sticks could do……

This past year I’ve knit with yarn that comes from sheep 15 or so miles away, I’ve bought beautiful handspun yarn from a sheep called Delilah…..I’ve been sent hand spun yarn from a complete stranger, I’ve knit with yarn from sheep that graze on seaweed, and fallen in love with yarn that feels like old worn velvet……most precious is the yarn I’ve bought because someone believed in her dad, and felt his sheeps fleece should be valued……

 

The best part of December was that my boyfriend was finally feeling a bit better, we took a couple of leisurely ambles across squishy meadows and marshes, and were even able to take some pictures of my two Ishbel shawls I’d finished back in October…(and yarn has already been tucked abway for Ishbel 4 but that will be a 2017 knit now)…..the shawls are rather chalk and cheese, one is small and rather plump and the other is like a waterfall of soft stitches…..both equally beautiful.

Another smiles and heart warming knit was knitting a pair of socks for my boyfriend’s dad’s birthday….wish so much I’d have been knittingn while my own dad was alive but Phil is lovely and very knitworthy so it was a pleasure to make these, and seeing him wiggle his toes as soon as he tried them on felt more than a bit special……

I’ve got a bit of chocolate and cheese head confusion as I clear forgot to mention that one of my wee little stockings was featured in the December issue of Country Living magazine and felt proud as punch at seeing my work in such a high quality publication….

The needle wraps I’ve made have been selling well, and I love that by knitting and finding out about interchangable needles that I’ve thought to make these wraps…..and I’m hoping to make some project bags that compliment them in the coming months….

It’s been lovely to look back and review my year….I hadn’t realized there’d been quite so much knitting, sadly not so much sewing this year which I hope to ammend rather in 2017 as I have bolts of fabric for new frocks, and a stack of resting patchworks that really need to get made up into quilts,many thank yous to people who’ve bought from my shop or requested commisions, and lastly thank you to you for reading my blog this past year…..but for now lets raise a toast, whether it’s a glass of something cheering, or a cup of tea, and wish each other health and happiness, peace and kindness for 2017…..

 

Nettle tingling fingers and blackberry junkets….

It’s been really hot and sticky feeling here the last few days, a bit too hot for me really and I’ve not wanted to do much of anything….however as I’d started noticing some fat and shiny blackberries about when I’d headed down to the shops we decided it was time to start gathering something to put down for the pantry.  The wild mirabelle plums which I’ve picked every year since I moved here didn’t even come to fruit this year and the wild cherries were a rather poor show, I managed to pick a small handful to eat on the way home but there wasn’t enough to cook with.  I’ve been a bit worried about the blackberries as they seem to have been a bit slow making an appearance but this last week or so I’ve been seeing the odd glimpse of shiny jet black berries when I’ve walked down to the shops.

the sock thief

We’ve not actually been home all that long as we had to stay in this morning looking after a fledgling wood pigeon our neighbour’s cat had knocked out of our tree…Bernard’s a bit old and creaky to be springing up trees however little miss from next door isn’t very old and she’s also pretty fearless…..adult wood pigeons are beautiful if a bit…hmph’ty…they always remind me of Georgian politicians or fat old country squires with the gout.  We get a few come visit in the garden and thy make me laugh how they strut about. Their colouring though is so pretty but the fledgling …well it was definitely a face only a mother was going to love…sadly the poor little creature died and I’m afraid to say kitty got short shift from me when she poked her head around the door to ask if Bernard was coming out to play….she’s already in my bad books as she  sneaked in and played with/ pulled out a sock out that I was knitting…she’s also eaten soup I was planning to eat myself and she also has a taste for lemon yoghurt…do not let that cute face mislead…this is one bad cat.

black berries in dappled sunshine

But as it was sunny and nice we decided we’d still go out as planned but just set a very gentle and slow pace as we ambled over the marshes ….there’s one spot in particular where we think the blackberries are best but it’s got so overgrown and tangled that it was really hard to just get on in there and pick.  We’d taken small secateurs as we knew it was going to be a bit of a jungle but didn’t realize just how overgrown and wild it had become…. my poor fingers are so sore and tingling from the nettle stings and brambles.  It feels like there’s more than a couple of tiny bramble splinters too but at least I didn’t stand in any fox poo today or get covered in cobwebs which I’m quite apt to do so am looking at the silver lining….generally when I’m foraging by myself I end up half in the hedgerow and when I clamber out look more than a little like Catweazle but when I’m with my sweetie he seems to make sure I don’t bring home half the hedge with me.  A couple of years ago I bought a walking stick from a charity shop and it’s brilliant to take with me to gently pull down any laden stems that seem a bit far out of reach, and I also take an old pair of garden clippers that were a car booty 50 p purchase to lop down any nettles that tend to spring up right in my face, however, I completely forgot to take the walking stick and missed it pretty much as soon as I got there.

river side

However we still picked just over a couple of pounds before deciding it was just too scorchy and wouldn’t it be nice to get home for a cold drink so we packed up and walked back home a slightly different way…normally it’s too boggy and wet underfoot to walk across this piece of the meadows but today it was just perfect.  Up to quite recently they’ve had cows grazing on here so all the meadow grass and wild flowers have been nibbled down, but I could see lots of vetch shoots appearing however I’m not sure if they’ll have time to blososm before the Autumn weather creeps in.

As the weather is due to be hot and sticky  tomorrow as well I’ve decided to make some little blackberry junkets…they need to be kept in the fridge once they’re set as they don’t have any preservatives in them but they’re so delicious that to be honest I generally can eat them til they come out of my ears.  Like possets they’re a wonderfully old fashioned recipe and are ridiculously easy to make.  This is the best weather to make them but really we should have gone out this morning to pick the berries so they had time to set while the sun was at it’s strongest, but I’ll pop them in the fridge overnight and then sit them out for a few hours in the sunshine tomorrow (and if all else fails I’ll add a little sugar, bring to the boil and get a set that way)…..when the early blackberries are picked they’re really super full of pectin and set naturally in sunshine, because they don’t contain any preservatives they do need to be eaten up quite quickly.  They are so eye closingly good on a just out of the oven scone with a smear of clotted cream on top but I think they’re also nice with yoghut or creme fraiche.

Wild berry bonanza……..

guelder rose 1

Recently when I’ve been rambling about over the marshes behind our home, I found this group of trees with the most brightest red berry imaginable.  I was keeping my fingers crossed that they’d be edible (their colour is just so intense I was thinking it would make for the most glorious jewel bright jelly)… after cutting a small sprig to check what it was in reference books at home, I discovered it was a Guelder Rose.

guelder rose 2

At first it seemed it was edible but after more on-line research it would appear it’s best to leave it on the tree….firstly, it has a bit of a dog poop aroma (I only cut a small sprig so didn’t notice anything unpleasant but I guess it’s something that you notice if you pick a lot) however eating the fruit can make you have an upset tummy (both ends being affected)…..felt a bit down hearted as the berries are a wonderful uplifting colour, but decided it was best not to risk being poorly.

guelder rose 3

Right now the leaves of the Guelder Rose are changing colour, so they are a wonderful combination of green, gold, fiery oranges and ambers, red and crimson.  Mix all that in with the intense scarlet berries and you really do have a magnificent and spectacular array of colour.

Last week was incredibly sunny and the sky was the most Summery bright blue possible, the Guelder Rose trees just looked breathtaking against the blue sky and the green of the Oak tree leaves which were growing along side them.

arms can't quite reach

And just around the corner from the Guelder Rose was this huge tangle of blackberries and brambles…be still my beating heart..unfortunately all the fat berries were just too high and completely out of arms reach (I’d need to be about 9 or 10 foot tall to have reached them, even trying to reach some with a walking stick was pretty futile…I just ended up scratched, covered in leaves, cobwebs and bits of bramble bush but no doubt I looked very entertaining to any passing dog walkers) however they looked stunning and I figure the squirrels and mice are having a good feast on them.

Along with the opportunity to eat some of my favourite foods and puddings (roast chestnuts, baked squash, blackberry crumbles), it’s the sudden change in colour of the hedgerows and trees which makes Autumn possibly my favourite season. (when I was younger it was because I’m an October birthday girl….but as I’ve gotten older I seem to appreciate the changing seasons more)…..I find myself favouring brighter yarns and embroidery flosses, picking out turmeric oranges and reds, golds and bright chestnuts, ambers and mustardy yellows combining them with bramble and damson deep purples.

Sunday afternoon strolling…..

squirrel

We’ve just got home after going for a Sunday afternoon stroll….the weather was perfect, sunny and bright, not too hot, just glorious.  We had a basket and were picking blackberries for a pudding (I’m trying out a blackberry clafoutis for tonight’s tea) when all of a sudden I realised part of the blackberry bush to where I was standing was making a noise…I stepped back and realised I was face to face with this little fellow, who was fair stuffing his face with blackberries…..he was so content and paid no heed at all to us.  We decided to move on and leave the rest of the berries to him.

lane

After walking round the edge of the pasture, we went through a swing gate and walked along this little shaded piece of lane….lane is probably too fancy a word, it’s just a path, dappled in sunlight, trees and bushes meet overhead…..it’s so quiet then whoosh a train goes by.   The train track runs along the back of the left side hedge.

shady tree

The right side is full of trees in shade, from the corner of my eye I see small birds flitting among the undergrowth…..

archway

The canopy overhead breaks open and when we turn round there is this lovely metal curved arch, honeysuckle grows up one side, the other side is covered with fat blackberries (which soon find a home in my tummy)…I love the glint of metal amongst the green.

mushroom

Squatting down to look at other plants we find these fat round mushrooms, I have no idea what they are, they look like fat bird eggs because they are speckled….they nestle in amongst delicate yarrow leaves which look like dainty green feathers.

cows

We walked along the river path which meanders and twists, we came round the corner and found our way today blocked by a small herd of cows.  Oddly I was just about to say “ohh, do you think cows ever get up this high” (the path overlooks the marshes by a good few feet) so we turned back and chose a different route….

hops

Walking back from the cows I noticed these wild hops growing by the side of the path…not enough to brew a beer I’m afraid…they had a soft sweet smell.

path

Part of the pathway behind the train track…..it was filled with sunlight and shadows….the bushes on one side are full of dark fat sloes…think it’s going to be a good year for those as well as the blackberries.

gnarly

We came across this great chap, I love gnarly trees and this one looks splendid…I think the twisted turning trunk is amazing, it’s like super fancy cable knitting.

pathway

We walked a slightly different way home, a path that’s normally boggy was dry enough to walk on, and we found loads more sloes and blackberries….I think how the trees and bushes meet up over our heads looks wonderful, the sunlight is dappled and the trees and leaves form beautiful shadows.

mossy

Thick green moss grows on the trees, it’s so soft and springy to the the touch.  The most gorgeous intense green…..I love it….I always have to touch it because it feels so nice and velvety.

mushrooms

And more mushrooms, like a fat cluster of brown hen eggs.  Their caps are a beautiful fawn colour, a warmer brown on top.  The colours now, at the end of Summer, and the very start of Autumn are possibly my favourite hues….. flame and fire of fallen leaves and the soft,warm brown of mushrooms, combined with bright red and the deep, dark purples of hedgerow berries.

Blackberry jam, a junket for two and brandy sozzled berries…..

berries in the pan

For Christmas the Arpette bought me a French copper preserving pan, it’s possibly the best present I’ve ever had, it’s huge (I’m pretty sure if we had a baby we could bathe them in it) incredibly heavy and is just the most beautiful colour.  I love how the blackberries look when they tumble into it…when they start to bubble up in a sugary syrup then the colour combination of deep purple berry and glistening copper are stunning….but most importantly I’m finding my jam making has improved no end by using it.

So far this summer I’ve made blackberry jam, mirabelle jam, blackberry and licorice jam (which is the most deepest darkest jam I’ve ever made…I liken it to a passionate embrace on the moors with Heathcliffe but without the thick ear), various blackberry treacles, an incredibly red raspberry jam with the raspberries from the garden and a raspberry and peach jam that looked so beautiful as the syrup was bubbling (all salmon pink, coral and apricot while it was bubbling up).

blackberry jam

This is the blackberry jam recipe I use, it’s my favourite jam in the whole wide world, and I think it’s best eaten in the Autumn…especially on toasted spiced breads and bagels, it’s also good spread between layers of chocolate cake, and lovely stirred into yoghurt.

Blackberry jam

Ingredients

1 kilo of blackbrries

800 g of granulated sugar

juice of one lemon

Method

Pick over the blackberries, and give them a very quick rinse in cold water.

Tip the berries into your preserving pan, cover with sugar and the lemon juice.

Bring to a steady simmer then transfer to a glass or ceramic bowl.  Cover with baking parchment, allow to cool before leaving overnight in the fridge.

Next day pour the fruit and syrup into the preserving pan (you may want to be wearing a pinny as it is a bit splashy) and bring to a rolling boil.

Cook for between 5 and 10 minutes, checking for a set on a cold saucer (I tend to keep a couple in the freezer while I’m making jam so that each time I check the set the saucer is really cold)

When the jam makes a good set (it will wrinkle when you push your finger into it, and it’s also tacky between finger and thumb), pour into sterilised jars, and seal the tops with little waxed circles.

blackberry and licorice treacle

A couple of years ago we were both rather addicted to the very delicious Giu desserts, they came in sweet little glass jars and I saved umpteen of them for using for jams and marmalade…they’re a really good size for the blackberry treacle  (I’ve used them for a lot of the other jams too) as their size allows you to store lots of small quantities in the cupboard.  Once you open a jar of the treacle it needs to be kept in the fridge but it tends to thicken up (you can add a little boiled water to a couple of spoonfuls of the treacle in a separate bowl before using if it thickens up too much…it’s a bit of a pfaff but gives a good result if you are using the treacle poured into yoghurt or over ice cream.)

Because of the glut of blackberries this year I’ve been trying out different recipes and ways to use them, as it’s been a bit on the pippy side in the evenings we’ve already been eating blackberries crumbles but for a warm evening one of my favourite recipes  is the humble but divine tasting Blackberry Junket…surely one of the easiest blackberry recipes and one of the tastiest.

Blackberry Junket

Ingredients

Really ripe freshly picked blackberries (best picked on a nice warm day so the berries feel warm from the sun)

Method

Pick the blackberries over.  Put them into a large bowl and give them a good mash with a potato masher (an apron is pretty much essential to wear as it’s a bit messy so you don’t get covered in juice).

Once you have a good pile of what looks like blackberry mush, strain it through a fine sieve (or lay a couple of squares of muslin in a not so fine sieve.) over a clean bowl.

Allow the liquid to collect, then cover with a tea towel and place to one side in a warmish spot for a few hours.  Don’t put it in the fridge.

After 3 or so hours it sets to become a delicious fruity jelly*

Have with freshly baked scones and clotted cream, or on delicate boudoir biscuits served topped with whipped cream as a sort of trifle.  Or if you are feeling all healthy then it’s just as delicious with yoghurt or creme fraiche.

*if it doesn’t set, don’t fret, just add a few desert spoons of sugar to the juice and bring to a steady boil…allow to cook for about 5 minutes then pour into a bowl (or a couple of smaller shallow bowls), leave to cool….it’s not really now a junket, but is still a very nice blackberry syrup which is nice over ice-cream or yoghurt.

Blackberry Brandy

We’ve also made some blackberry brandy which we hope to start drinking in a few months….it’s really simple to make and the best bit is you can eat the brandy sozzled berries as a dessert.

Ingredients

500 g blackberries (picked over)

175 g castor sugar

1 litre of brandy

sterilised mason jar

Method

Put the blackberries in to the mason jar.  Cover with the sugar.

Pour over the brandy and seal the jar.  Store away form direct light.

Shake the jar a little every day.

After 2 months, strain the brandy.  Reserve the berries.  Pour the brandy into a bottle.

The berries can be used in a pudding, they are incredibly nice on pudding biscuits (allow them to soak in for an hour or so) with mascarpone cream on top or used as a boozy cheesecake topping.

Two patchwork blocks for dear ethel and a blackberry crumble for my pudding…

amish shoofly

Two new patchwork blocks for my “dear ethel” quilt…I’m starting to feel a bit sad that I’ve  only got about  25 more blocks to piece…I’m still pfaffing about how I’m going to join them together, I know I’ll use sashing but I’m a bit un-sure exactly which colours I’ll use.  Anyway that is still a little way off.

In the meantime, in case you’d like to know, this block is called Amish Shoofly, the red fabric was some from my sister’s stash, and the pink lamby fabric (one of my favourite fabrics) is a Lecien print.

capital T

This patchwork block is called Capital T.  I really like using orange and red together, it’s fantastically bright and colour clashing, and reminds me so much of sticky sweet rocket lollies from the seventies.  I had to un-pick some of the pieces as I’d managed to sew some upside down and on the side (I’d carefully fussy cut the fabric so the pattern all ran in one direction and then wasn’t concentrating while I was sewing it)

It actually makes my eyes go a bit funny when I stare at it.

I’m very aware the light in the evening is changing….it’s getting tricksier and tricksier sewing in the evening (I seem to wind up sitting on the other end of the sofa to where the light actually falls….) and am in the process of sorting out un-finished woolly projects from last year (hmmm thinking about it most of them seem to come from the year before that), thinking to see if I can finish them so they’ll be all ready for when it becomes properly chilly (though there was such a definite nip in the air this morning when I was out in the garden picking caterpillars off our sprouting broccoli, so am thinking it won’t be long and I’ll be wrapping my self up in scarves and shawls…..

We had blackberry crumble for pudding last night, I’d picked blackberries in the morning and had some left over from making jam……it seems a bit strange eating a crumble in the summer (to me it’s very much an autumn or winter pudding, to be eaten after a hearty casserole or something with lots of mushrooms and fat vegetarian sausages) but it was so chilly I really needed something warm.  I just put the fruit into a shallow baking dish, sprinkling them with brown sugar and then covering them with crumble mix from the freezer…25 minutes later the fruit was bubbling up through a crisp and crumbly topping…..perfect.

Blackberry Crumble

blackberries (allow a good handful per person…more if you are like me and are a bit greedy for puddings)

soft brown sugar, a desert spoon per person

crumble topping

Crumble Topping

8 oz of plain flour

4 oz unslated butter

2 oz castor sugar

Tip the flour into a large bowl.  Cut the butter into small cubes and using the tips of your fingers, rub the fat and flour together until the mixture becomes dry and sandy breadcrumbs.  Add the sugar and mix in well.

This is enough for several crumbles.  Store in a sealed bag in the freezer and just sprinkle over fruit when you want a delicious and hot fruity pudding.

(you can also add a desert spoon or so of chopped hazelnuts and of rolled oats before using the crumble topping in the oven)

Method

Turn the oven on to gas 6

If you like you can use a small knob of butter to lightly grease the baking dish first, I do this for fruit I have frozen, but not if I am using fruit I’ve picked that day.

Pick the blackberries over and give them the quickest of rinses in a bowl of cold water.

Put the berries into a shallow ceramic baking dish, sprinkle over the sugar and toss together.

Scatter over as much of the crumble topping as you like…the berries needs to be well covered so try to hide all the fruit.

Bake in the top third of the oven for about 25 minutes, the crumble topping turns a lovely golden brown.

Allow to cool for a few minutes before serving.  Very good with cold thick cream, creme fraiche or vanilla custard.

For some crumbles I add a little cinnamon to the topping, this is just gilding the lily for a blackberry crumble, as far as I’m concerned, the simpler the better…though it is very nice with the hazelnuts and rolled oats mixed into the crumble top.

If I have made a big fruit crumble and there is some left for the next day, when I re-heat it, I’ll put some of the crumble mix from the freezer on to a lined baking tray and let that toast for a few minutes so that there is still a  crumbly topping.

hedgerows and verges

yarrow

 

One of my favourite plants I see in the hedgerows and pastures near my home is yarrow.

I love the shape of it’s delicate little leaves, and it’s whipped up frothiness of blossom before it unfurls to reveal the flower head.

 

yarrow unfurling

 

Last week there was a huge patch of green, where all the yarrow was curled up tight.  But after a few days of hot sunshine and a weekend of more rain than you’d believe in August (it wasn’t a bank holiday so there was no excuse for such terrible weather) the yarrow is now unfurling, and the air is really quite heavy with it’s slightly medicinal perfume.

 

candy flossed

 

I love how the blossom is so frothed and spun, like candy flossed and then pollen speckled on the fronds and stem below….like a tiny fairy as been round dusting them all with icing sugar.

 

ragwort

 

Another plant that is growing really well this year is gorgeous and golden ragwort..it’s such a rich glorious yellow but it’s pretty stinky so is best admired without picking it to take home for a jam jar.

 

precariously balanced

 

I’m noticing a lot of bizarrely situated snails this year, I’d remembered to take my camera out with me so could take a quick picture of this precariously balanced little fellow…

 

be still my beating heart

 

And walking into town by a slightly different route I came across this beauty…..be still my beating heart….(sampled a couple of the really ripe ones….eye closingly good, sweet yet also a little sharp)

 

 

Breakfast, Bernard and some patchwork blocks….

blackberries and yoghurt

Yesterday I had the most wonderful tasting breakfast…. raspberries from the garden, thick yoghurt and a dark and wobbly blackberry jelly.

The jelly was one of those happy accidents in the kitchen where when one recipe fails, another appears …. just as delicious

I’d made some blackberry junket and even though my berries were juicy and sweet, the junket didn’t really set…so I just added a few heaped tablespoons of sugar and bought the juice to a simmer, sort of like when you make a jelly (or blackberry treacle) then I let it continue to boil for about 5 minutes, stirring it all the time to make a thick syrup.

We used a little of the cooked blackberry syrup over boudoir biscuits with whipped cream on top as a quick little pudding, but the rest I poured into tiny bowls and left them covered with a clean tea towel.

When I came downstairs the next morning the “syrup” had set to a dark purpley red, bright and glistening jelly….. I turned one out and had it for breakfast with the yoghurt and raspberries…. mmm so good

I think it would also make the most incredible cheesecake topping.

Bernard in the window

Someone (mentioning no names of course!) wanted a tummy rub at 3 o’clock in the morning…..

nap time

And just as I’d dropped off about four thirty….the mewling started again…..this is now a regular occurrence…sometimes a tummy rub is required, other times he needs an early breakfast…and then there are the times when we all have to budge up so there is room on the bed for him to jump up, poke the bed til it’s comfy then curl up and fall asleep (generally with his tail half across my face!)

sleepy kitty

So now he’s all worn out and sleepy, I’ve been mewed at because I was making too much noise (and you know, he’s really tired so pipe down please)….he’s actually snoring in these pictures…he never used to snore…this is something he’s started doing over the last year or so…. he’s all stretched out on his window seat quilt (I made it for him out of one of my sister’s shirts and a old pair of her pyjamas)

summer snoozing

Behind Bernard you can see some of our raspberries, this year has been really good with a good early harvest which we’ve had most mornings for breakfast….hoping that the later crop is good as well, those are the berries we make into jam.

contrary wife 2

I’ve finished piecing together a few more blocks for “dear ethel”…..  this is another block named “contrary wife”…. I’m still on a bit of a yellow kick with my fabric choices…maybe the blackberry picking has influenced me with the purple fabric…..

cornerstone

This brightly coloured block makes me think of those cheap sea side lollies that would stain tongues, lips, fingers…..they were always incredibly sweet tasting like undiluted orange squash…. the block is called “cornerstone”.  I really like red teamed up with orange, it seems to make each colour even brighter.

toad in the puddle

This block is called “toad in the puddle” which has got to be one of the best names for a patchwork quilt block ever…the block itself isn’t from my usual reference book but I saw it in another book which I picked up a couple of years ago at a car-boot…. it might well be in the other book and I’ve just missed it (when there are over 5000 blocks in there it’s easy to miss one)…..  I know I’ve made a few blue and yellow blocks already but it’s a combination I never tire of.

Blackberry bounty and a wild berry treacle……

blackberry bounty

On Monday I went for a huge long walk around the marshes behind my home, it was so sunny, and really felt like a perfect Summer’s day.  At one point I just sat down in the pasture to take in the view for a few minutes, it’s so nice and peaceful there, just the occasional call out from the people playing golf (there is a golf course the other side of the river)…..Really I should have packed a bottle of juice and something to eat as it would have been lovely to have had a little picnic.  While I sat and just took in the scenery I had a dragonfly land on my shoe, it was huge.  The marshes are a wonderful habitat for dragonflies and there are lots of different species living there. From time to time we get them fly into our garden, but it’s never more than a couple at a time.

a sight for sore eyes

Apart from the abundance of dragon flies, there was also an abundance of blackberries, many of the stems are sagging under the weight of so many berries….and they are just so sweet this year.  The winter wasn’t particularly cold, and we didn’t have the snow like we’d had the year before, our Autumn was long and often warm so maybe that helped….whatever it was, the blackberries seem to be particularly good this year.

blackberry cluster

These were just the biggest berries, seriously they were the size of fat black cherries, and were really nice to pick, I didn’t get the fox glove finger effect like I had last week.  And I made sure to wear clothes that would allow me to almost climb into the bushes, luckily I’m quite leggy so am able to clamber about like I’m wearing seven league boots….

blackberry harvest

These were so perfect I ended up eating a bowl of them with some yoghurt for my lunch (I just rinsed them under a tap first) then in the evening we had more for pudding with raspberries from the garden with chocolate meringues and thick cream.  It’s not often the blackberries are so good you can eat them without cooking them a little bit first.

tortoiseshell butterfly

I actually got very excited when I saw this tortoiseshell butterfly, I thought it was a large tortoiseshell which is almost extinct here in the UK but in fact it’s just a regular sized one, though it was pretty big.  It loved this thistle, and along with the butterfly there were loads of  bees on the thistles and bramble blossoms…..the air was just completely filled with that lovely soft hum and drone of bumble bees.

purple loosestrife in meadow

Along with the bramble blossoms and thistles the bees really seem to like Purple Loosestrife …..it looks so beautiful growing in tall clusters in the meadows.  It’s such an amazingly bright colour….I wish I had tights this shade.

Once I got home any remaining room in the freezer was quickly filled with blackberries (think it is going to be a very happy blackberry eating Autumn here) and then I made some Blackberry Treacle……mmmm how best to describe it…thick, dark, the very taste of autumn.  I varied my recipe a tiny bit this time by including some licorice as I wanted an even darker wilder taste.  It’s my culinary take on a long and passionate embrace on the wild moors with Heathcliffe (though I’m sure the reality of that would in all likelihood end with getting a clout round the ear and a black eye to boot as he goes on to string up your dog from a tree in the garden….just how does he end up being such a great romantic character in literature…) …anyway, I used about an inch sized piece of confectioners licorice (which is the root boiled down into a shiny black stick)….the treacle is cooked twice and doesn’t set quite as thick as a jam.  It not only tastes good with cold deserts (poured over yoghurt, ice cream etc) it’s lovely stirred in custard, spread onto toasted spiced bread, and can be used as a filling for my Chocolate Weekend Cake. This year I’m thinking to pour a little over apples before baking them in a crumble (which just goes to show how much I must love the Arpette as I don’t like cooked apples so I won’t be eating it…but am willing to share my beloved blackberry treacle with him………in the past, I am ashamed to say, I have hidden a precious jar of home-made blueberry jam because it was just so delicious and I only had the one jar!)